What it does
For 33 years, the Recreation and Park Commission has closed the eastern portion of John F. Kennedy Drive (and a few auxiliary streets) in Golden Gate Park to automobile traffic on Sundays and certain holidays. Effected streets include: John F. Kennedy Drive between Kezar and Transverse Drives; Arguello Boulevard, Conservatory Drive East, and Conservatory Drive West; Bowling Green Drive between John F. Kennedy Drive and Middle Drive East. Exceptions include: Municipal Railway vehicles, paratransit, disabled motorists and museum staff crossing from Fulton Street to Music Concourse and Tea Gardens via 8th Avenue (see map). This idea originated at SPUR in the early 1960s and SPUR was a leader in effectuating that closure. Today, Propositions F and G are competing initiatives specifying on which date to begin closing those same roadways on Saturdays in addition to Sundays. Proposition F would close roads on January 1, 2001; Proposition G would take effect one month after the new underground garage at the Golden Gate Park concourse is open. Closures would exclude all motor vehicles (except emergency vehicles) from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and all observed city holidays.
Why it is on the ballot
In June 1998, the voters defeated Prop. A, which would have partially funded the reconstruction of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and passed Prop. J, authorizing construction of the privately funded garage. Subsequently, the de Young developed a proposal to fund a new museum entirely with private money. Prop. J’s stated objectives were to “create a pedestrian oasis in the Music Concourse area” and “take steps to reduce the impact of automobiles in the park while still providing long-term assurance of safe, reliable and convenient access for visitors to the park, including its cultural institutions.” Prop. J established a Concourse Authority and directed it to undertake a series of transportation studies including “road closures within the park in accordance with the Golden Gate Park Master Plan.” After much controversy, the Golden Gate Master Plan was adopted in the spring of 1999 including a number of traffic calming measures, but not the wholesale Saturday closure of JFK and the other roads in the eastern end of the park. Prop. F, an initiative placed on the ballot by primarily volunteer-collected signatures, would close JFK to cars in January. Proponents say the plan is the product of their frustration with their inability to get the city to effectuate Saturday closure. Prop. G is an initiative placed on the ballot by six supervisors in reaction to Prop. F, at the behest of the institutions in the park which are concerned that public access to the cultural institutions on what is typically their busiest day of the week will be prematurely cut off before the garage is built. These three museums in the park are embattled and have been held hostage for years by siting and transportation fights.
The Prop. F Case
Proponents of Prop. F argue that:
- The Sunday closure has become the most successful program offered by the Recreation and Park Department, and provides one of the few places where residents of diverse backgrounds can safely and affordably engage in recreational activities.
- Clearly, on days when JFK is closed to cars, more people use Golden Gate Park, than on Saturdays when care are allowed.
- The de Young will close next year for several years of construction, and the California Academy of Science will close the following year. Thus, the impact of Saturday closure next January would be minimal.
- The competing Prop. G contains loopholes that could forestall Saturday closure for several more years.
The Prop. G Case
Proponents of Prop. G argue that:
- In 1998, the electorate already voted to create a pedestrian oasis in the Music Concourse by reducing the presence of automobiles through the construction of an underground parking garage. Maintaining the integrity of that earlier measure is important for the park and the institutions in it.
- The Golden Gate Concourse Authority is charged with conducting comprehensive transportation studies toward this end and indeed is doing so right now.
- This is the wrong time to alter the park’s traffic patterns, while the de Young and the Cal Academy are beginning new construction and major renovation.
- The Asian Art Museum will not close for its move to the Civic Center until 2002, the Strybing Arboretum is not closing, and Saturday closure now will seriously harm public access to them.
Most of the con arguments apply equally to both Props. I and F:
- The current energy crisis is about supply (generation), not distribution. However, both measures before the voters focus on taking over the distribution system. This will not address the crisis.
- The City of San Francisco already has the authority to take over utility services. By creating new, independent or quasi-independent agencies, these measures will reduce democratic accountability: instead of being governed by the Mayor and Board of Supervisors, they will be governed by a whole new set of politicians, who will inevitably run in lower profile elections, and will therefore not be as well known by the electorate.
- It is not likely that these public agencies will be able to provide cheaper power. For the most part, they will either need to buy it on the open market or build new generating facilities, and there is no reason to believe that a public agency can do either of these things more cheaply than a private company. What's more, many of the stated goals of the measures-in particular those pertaining to renewable energy-could lead to an increase in rates. While this increase may be justified on public policy grounds, reduced retail prices is not a reason to vote for the measures.
- A major overlap-and turf battle-will emerge if both MUD and MWPA pass, promising to result in terrific political theater and terrible public policy.
- 1998’s Prop. J and the current Prop. G present an unprecedented opportunity for master planning of transportation systems in and to the park, and on surrounding streets. The planning that was called for is occurring Prop. F simply jumps the gun by specifying the solution without doing the studies. Prop. G reinforces that comprehensive transportation planning will occur.\
Both measures would close the same roads in Golden Gate Park to motor vehicle traffic during the day on Saturdays, as well as on Sundays and other city holidays. Thus, both eliminate the current parking available on JFK Drive on Saturdays. Both permit access to the museums by emergency, Muni, paratransit, and motorists with disabled placards. In addition, Prop. F directs the Recreation and Park Commission to work on improving access to the park and its attractions by means other than private automobiles, in ways that are consistent with the city’s Transit First policy, with other plans and studies, and with the park’s scenic beauty, and which minimize neighborhood traffic impacts. It calls for an increase in parking for the disabled in the park. Prop. G links road closure to the garage by closing the roads a month after the garage is opened. While the garage is under construction, its operating body, the Concourse Authority, and the Recreation and Park Commission may close the subject roads up to three Saturdays a year to study the effects on regional traffic; transit traffic; businesses; neighborhoods; park users, institutions and activities; and the environmental health and sustainability of the park. The city is directed to use its best efforts to mitigate any impacts of Saturday closure on any of the above. Finally, twenty-four months after Prop. G passes, if the Concourse Authority cannot certify that a defined minimum of progress has been made on the garage project, the Saturday closure would take takes place six months later.
The issues for Golden Gate Park are complex, and best resolved through the give-and-take of the planning process, or at most, the legislative process. Thus, neither of these initiatives should be on the ballot. And certainly the several serial measures we have seen whose real objective may be to get the institutions out of the park and conversely to insist they stay in the park are not healthy civic dialogue.
The tragedy of these ballot measures is that we are on the verge of a win-win situation: build the garage as a way to keep all the cars bringing patrons to the institutions underground; then close the surface roads to cars, perhaps even seven days a week. Park design requires sensitive planning with an eye toward all users of the space, not simple-minded political campaigns.
SPUR recommends a no vote on Prop. F and a yes vote on Prop. G. We find that Prop. G best balances the goal of creating car-free areas in the park with the needs of the cultural institutions. Ideally, it will be followed up by more far-reaching transportation measures, including a G-Line extension of Muni into the park, an intra-park shuttle, and roadway redesign throughout the park. The de Young, the Academy, and the Asian Art Museum are among the city’s premiere institutions, and have been embattled for years in a mean-spirited and contradictory measures. It is time to stop the petty squabbling and support park users for every constituency and not just one.
SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Proposition F and a "Yes" vote on Proposition G.